Lifting People Up

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEach day at UTMB Health, people’s lives are touched in positive ways by our employees. Last week, I heard a story I wanted to share with you about an employee who went the extra mile to lift a patient’s spirits.

Nurse Keith Sumrall was working on the Pediatric Unit in John Sealy Hospital. One of the patients for whom he was caring had just been through a tough surgery; he also had an intellectual disability which made him feel especially anxious about the entire experience. One evening, as Keith left the patient’s room, he asked if there was anything else he could do. Kyle* had his heart set on one thing: a Kit Kat bar.

There were no Kit Kat bars on the unit to take to the young patient. The next day, Keith decided to buy something sweet for his patient. However, he didn’t return to the room with just one candy bar—he arrived with 60 Kit Kat bars, which he poured onto the bed cover in front of Kyle. The expression on the young man’s face was priceless. The moment was captured by his father, who videotaped the encounter.

Who would have thought that Kit Kat bars could bring that much joy to a patient who had been through so much that week? Kyle was so appreciative, he decided to name his new teddy bear after Keith.

I received another story on Wednesday from Dr. Joan Richardson, Chair of Pediatrics. It was an article that appeared in the New York Times (click here to read the article) about the experience of a family at CHA Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts. Although the story did not take place at UTMB, it very easily could have.

The article featured the letter from the patient’s husband, who wrote about the professionalism of the staff, their kindness and compassion, and their consideration for the patient’s dignity and the family’s comfort. The staff also made it possible for the husband to have one last tender experience with his wife. These are all the types of things I hear about almost daily from our patients and their loved ones here at UTMB.

These two stories are examples of people who took delivering Best Care to a whole new level. Best Care is more than medicine. It is showing compassion and kindness for people who truly need our care. We should always ask patients and their loved ones if there is anything else we can do for them, and if there is something we can do to help (even if it is not within our scope of responsibility) we should find a way—we can always lend an ear, and we can always treat our patients and their loved ones with the same care and respect with which we would want to be treated.

Best Care is about understanding our patients’ needs and then doing what we reasonably can to meet them. It’s about living our values. The employees in these stories did exactly that as they demonstrated what exceptional patient care is all about.

Thank you to all of you who work together to truly work wonders for our patients and deliver Best Care, every patient, every time!

John Holmes

* The patient’s name and video above are shared with permission of the patient’s family.

SECC Don’t forget! The State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) is underway! SECC is a chance to give back to our communities and the important causes that are near and dear to us.

To all who have already committed to SECC, thank you!  To those who have not yet given, please give this every consideration. No amount is too small, and giving could not be easier. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift).

Please visit the SECC website at  to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is November 14, 2016.

Remember Why You Started

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever worked really hard to improve at something, only to find that after dedicating a lot of time and attention to it, you did not get better? Or worse yet, that you didn’t even do as well as when you started? Did you give up, or did you make adjustments and work even harder?

When I was in my early 20’s, I decided I would take up golfing. Many of my friends played, and I thought it would be a good skill to have, especially if I were going into business. Everyone in business plays golf, right?

The first thing I set out to do was purchase a set of golf clubs. I am left-handed, so borrowing clubs was out of the question, and no one I knew had left-handed clubs that I could borrow. I had even tried playing a round of golf using right-handed clubs, but wow, was that a mistake! I didn’t even get through three holes before I realized it simply wasn’t going to work.

So, I set out in search of some left-handed golf clubs. I had been saving up for a new car, but I decided since my car was running fine, I would use the money to buy my clubs instead. I would love to say that they helped my performance, but they did not.

Despite family members who tried to teach me and despite the lessons I paid for with more of my car savings, nothing helped. In my entire life, I have played nine holes of golf twice. I am sure it was entertaining to those accompanying me—I would miss the ball and hit the grass with the club, knocking up a chunk of earth, or I would swing repeatedly at the air while trying to tee off. Then, it would take me about 10 strokes just to get to the green. While I was a pretty good putter, it did not make up for the rest of my performance.

Ultimately, I decided that golf was not my game; so, I invested my time in playing other sports I was good at like volleyball, softball and bowling. (I ended up being pretty good at bowling!) However, I have often wondered how good I could have become at golfing if giving up hadn’t been an option. I guess I will never know…

This experience made me think about Best Care. Last week, we received our results from Vizient for the quality and safety data we submitted in parts of 2015 and 2016. While we are still generally in the top 20 for equity and patient-centeredness, and we are almost at the top 20 for patient-safety, we have fallen in our overall ranks for mortality, efficiency, and effectiveness. As a result, our overall score fell from being 58th to 76th out of a little more than 100 academic medical centers. While we are still in the three-star category, our results within that range slipped.

What happened? There are several things to point out:

  • The 12 months of data we submitted did not include most of the last four months of effort we have given to the Best Care initiative. This means that some of the great progress we have made so far was not captured in this set of data. This was particularly evident in the category of mortality; for example, we know we have made considerable progress by converting patients who were expected to pass away to hospice care at the right time.
  • As we had already anticipated, several items were also added to the survey this year which affected the scores. For example, length of stay (LOS) was previously calculated according to the date of inpatient admission and the date of discharge. Now, patients who are being observed but are later officially admitted are also included in this count, and the time they spent in observation is included in their length of stay, thus increasing UTMB’s overall length of stay performance.
  • We have identified issues that are creating the need to keep patients in observation, such as limited availability of some weekend services in the hospital (other than what is needed for emergency services). The Health System has started working with affected departments to help improve patient access for those services on a routine basis.
  • It should be noted that several services have improved their performance by reducing their length of stay, as well as the direct cost of care for the patient. So, there was some positive news in the latest results.

We will be looking very closely at the data this week and developing the additional action plans we need to meet our Best Care goals, but we need everyone to stay focused on what we need to do in our individual roles—and most importantly as part of our teams—in order to be successful.

They say, “When you think about quitting, remember why you started.” Unlike my decision to give up on golfing, quitting Best Care is not an option for us. We have to double down on our efforts—we owe it to our patients and their families and we owe it to ourselves to show the world that the care and service delivered at UTMB is the very best. When the Vizient Quality & Accountability Study comes out next fall, and we are in the top 20, our efforts to “Be the Best” will not end. Maintaining that position will be as challenging as achieving it. It is hard work to always deliver Best Care, but it is also highly rewarding.

I am convinced with the many good people we have working together on Best Care, that we will achieve our goals. Thank you for all of your contributions to and work on behalf of our patients to assure that they receive Best Care – every patient, every time.


Unless we think together, we will fail to get the best out of one another!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThere once was an executive named Joe, who worked for a medical device company. Joe was very worried about the device that he was working on. He thought that it was too complicated, and he thought that its complexity created margins of error that could really hurt patients.

He wanted to find a way to help, but when he looked around his organization, nobody else seemed to be at all worried. So, he didn’t really want to say anything. After all, maybe they knew something he didn’t. Maybe he’d look stupid. But he kept worrying about it, and he worried about it so much that he got to the point where he thought the only thing he could do was leave a job he loved.

In the end, however, Joe did find a way to raise his concerns. And what happened then is what almost always happens in this situation—it turned out everybody had exactly the same questions and doubts! So now Joe had allies, and everyone on his team was thinking about how to solve the problem together. And yes, there was debate and argument, but that allowed everyone around the table to be creative, to solve the problem, and to change the device.

By speaking up, Joe wasn’t undermining anyone’s work. In fact, he was improving the overall quality of the team’s work and protecting others from harm. Joe had always been passionately devoted to his organization and the higher purposes that the organization served, but he had always feared the conflict that would result from speaking up. When he did finally speak up, he discovered that he had not only contributed much more to the team than he had ever imagined, but his colleagues did not think negatively of him—they thought of him as a leader.

The story above was borrowed from a presentation by Margaret Heffernan, a writer and keynote speaker who frequently presents on how conflict avoidance and selective blindness can lead organizations astray. Fear of conflict is the very thing that leads to communication breakdowns and broken processes, which in turn, result in preventable errors.

We know from the premise of our Culture of Trust that significant safety failures are almost never caused by isolated errors committed by individuals. Rather, they result from multiple, smaller errors in environments with serious underlying system flaws. This is why regular feedback and communication is important.

A couple weeks ago, I shared a story about my own experiences with constructive feedback, and how at times, I have also found it uncomfortable to give and to receive. However, I realize the importance of constructive conversations, and even though they may involve a difference of opinion, they are a very necessary part of conducting safe, effective and successful work for several good reasons:

  1. We don’t always have an internal cue that lets us know that we’re wrong about something until it’s too late.
  2. Without a shared understanding of people’s points of view when it comes to concerns, people might blame problems on other people, and not where it actually should be, like broken or inefficient processes.
  3. Continual two-way feedback allows people to focus on one or two areas for improvement, rather than having to address a much larger problem that has already caused harm or will require significant intervention and time to resolve.

If we truly care about providing the safest care for our patients, we will be committed to speaking up. Continual quality and safety improvement is the right thing to do. As we observed in Joe’s case, speaking up helped the team and the individual to achieve success. That is why we have to be willing to listen to and consider what others are saying to us. Individually, we must keep an open mind and be willing to work through problems strategically. As a team, we know this is important because it will ultimately help us succeed. Unless we think together, we will fail to get the best out of one another!

Whether we have a gut feeling about the condition or functionality of a device, or we feel concerned that a care process may be unsafe, we need to act with safety in mind and speak up. In health care, we are accountable for our own actions and for those of our team. As we go about our important work, let’s be conscious of any system design that may potentially cause harm if we do not identify the flaws and fix them before a patient is affected. Instead of being afraid of conflict, we have to address the issues head-on.

My job is to make sure that you have what you need to be able to take care of our patients. If you don’t, my hope is that you will make your manager aware, and if you are the manager and you cannot get what you need to ensure your team can provide the right care at the right time in the right way for your patients, you will continue to escalate the matter, without fear of consequence, until you get a resolution. This does not mean that the decision will always be exactly what you want or asked for, but you should receive an answer and a resolution that leaves you with a sense of closure.

Remember: “You can blame people who knock things over in the dark or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEarly in my career, I worked as the administrator in the department of surgery of a small medical school in Central Illinois. It was a wonderful setting to begin my administrative career, because I had the chance to experience many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise been given at a much larger medical school.

One of those experiences surfaced around the advent of the personal computer. Our chair of surgery decided he wanted to replace the institutional mainframe with a local area network (LAN) for the whole department. And that would not have been a problem, except for the fact that he wanted the department to manage it, not the chief information officer (CIO) for the school.

The chair assigned one of our researchers, an individual with a great aptitude for computers, to negotiate this change with the CIO. After three months of meetings, however, neither side wanted to budge on who “owned” the network.

At that point, the chair told me that he wanted me to “broker” this deal and get the CIO to concede the management of the network to the department. Because he was my boss, I agreed, but I have to tell you I was reluctant—I knew very little about computers and even less about personal computers and local area networks! The only thing that boosted my confidence was that I generally could get people to come together and reach an agreement, even when they had not been able to before.

At the first meeting, I let the researcher and the CIO do most of the talking. I asked them to tell me, from their perspective, how each envisioned the system would be configured and implemented, and what each thought the barriers were to reaching an agreement. As the talking continued, I remember thinking that the meeting might as well have been in a foreign language, because I was not fluent in half the terminology they used once they got into specifics. I left the meeting wondering what I could ever do to move this discussion along, and I was a little concerned about whether I could actually get these two gentlemen to agree.

Rather than accept defeat, I began reading everything I could about LANs and their configuration, the future of the mainframe in a world evolving to use personal computers, and how others had managed similar implementations. I knew that in order to accomplish the job I’d been assigned, I had to educate myself. Although I was daunted by the learning curve, I was also energized by the possibility of learning about something which was definitely going to change how we worked.

When the project ended two months later, I had successfully brought the researcher and CIO to an agreement. Today, the details of that agreement have faded from memory, but what I do remember is that the CIO agreed to support us in putting the LAN in the department as a pilot for the rest of the medical school, the researcher could define the configuration, and the system would be maintained by the CIO and his team. Meanwhile, I had become the “go to” person in administration for other departments as they each began to implement their own networks.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” I had used an opportunity to increase my value to the organization and better prepare myself for a changing future. And, I had helped the departments involved maintain a positive relationship.

I believe that with the right attitude, we can completely reframe the way we experience challenges—we can take advantage of challenging situations to unlock our untapped strengths and abilities. Each time we do this, it will increase our confidence until we begin to see most challenges as opportunities to harness our personal power to an even greater degree.

I am reminded about this story each time we take on something new. We have a choice: we can either resist change or even try to keep the inevitable from happening; or, we can personally take the necessary steps and contribute to making the change a success. If you refuse to let challenges intimidate you or slow you down, you just might inspire and motivate others to do the same when they face obstacles of their own. Anytime you experience personal growth, you help the people around you in some way!

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Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI admit it! I love college basketball. Not just any college team, however. I am an avid Kansas University basketball fan (the “why” is a story for another time). We are now about three weeks away from the beginning of March Madness, and other than work, it is hard for me to focus on anything other than watching the games in the evening and on weekends.

My love of the sport began in high school. My senior year, our high school team came in third in the state tournament. I remember walking into the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois and being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the field house. Today, that experience reminds me of the movie, “Hoosiers”, when Gene Hackman’s team gets to the state tournament. As the team walks into the field house for the first time, Hackman’s character is aware that the team feels overwhelmed by the size of the venue. He asks the players to begin measuring the court. Little by little, they become aware that nothing about the size of the court has changed. What has changed is simply the size of the field house where they are playing.

In many respects, playing in a national or state tournament is a lot like working in health care. The magnitude of what we have to do seems greater than ever before, but the fundamentals of what we do, much like the basketball court, has not changed. Our job is to take the very best care of patients and families that we can. In our tournament, we strive to BE THE BEST!

When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, the basketball players had to run the hills on the outskirts of the city. Day after day, up and down the hills the players ran. It was not exciting; in fact, it was probably very boring, but year after year, the Wisconsin Badger’s conditioning pays off. Through hard training and practice, under the leadership of Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has become a regular contender in the Road to the Final Four. Last year, they made it to the Final Four.

When I was at the University of Kansas, Coach Ted Owens made his players shoot free throw after free throw, and often it was their predictable free throw shooting that made the difference in their wins. Again, this repetition and daily practice wasn’t glamorous, nor as entertaining as racing down the court, crossover dribbling behind one’s back and dunking the ball, but it was the difference that made the win for the Kansas Jayhawks.

In health care, we condition ourselves through practice—doing the same thing, the same way, every time. That consistency is a must in health care. It is when we deviate from the plan, when we decide that we can do something better than the way we were trained, that we end up not doing well. As we practice doing something over and over, we get better at it, and therefore provide safer care to our patients. Whether it is calling time outs, or reviewing and signing patient histories and physicals, whether it’s gelling our hands before and after entering a patient room, or developing our budgets, training and consistency pays off for our patients and provides the underpinning to BE THE BEST.

As you think about your work this week, what do you need to practice or have your team practice to assure our progress toward the goal – TO BE THE BEST?

“I stick with the fundamentals. The basics.”

—Bo Ryan


Be your own Valentine!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis weekend, it’s Valentine’s Day, and that means the aisle at the grocery store that was once fully stocked with chocolates, candy, roses and stuffed animals will soon be empty—at least until the next holiday’s shipment arrives!

Whether you’re treating yourself to a heart-shaped box of chocolates or getting something special for a loved one, don’t forget that February is also American Heart Month. So this Valentine’s Day, here’s to taking care of our loved ones and ourselves! After all, there is no better way to honor your commitment to someone (and yourself!) than doing something that adds to a long, happy, and healthy life.

The following are some easy ways you can promote Heart Health for yourself and others:

  1. Celebrate American Heart Month. At least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable. Help raise awareness about heart disease prevention and learn how to lower heart disease risk!
  2. Give the gift of quality time. Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give to yourself and to others. Start a creative project or read a book. The weather forecast for this weekend is sunny and warm! It will be a great opportunity for outdoor activities, like riding a bike or taking a walk (walking for as little as 30 minutes a day provides heart-health benefits). Whatever you choose to do, have a great time doing it, and you just might burn a few extra calories!
  3. Don’t let Valentine’s Day plans stress you out. Learn ways to cope with stress and engage in healthy activities, including getting plenty of sleep. Call a friend or spend some time with your pet. Breathe deeply—breathing exercises are a great way to begin and end your day. In fact, abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day helps increase the supply of oxygen to your brain, slows your heart rate, helps your muscles relax, and quiets your mind.
  4. Set a “table for two” at home. Most restaurants will be crowded, expensive, and unhealthy. Cooking at home is an excellent way to control the quality and amounts of what you eat. Take a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique. Treat yourself and loved ones to healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat and salt.
  5. If you smoke, quit smoking. One of the best things you can do for your heart is to give up smoking or help a loved one quit. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for 1 of every 5 deaths.
  6. Just move. Plan an activity that encourages physical fitness. Regular physical activity can help control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers, improve mental health and mood, and increase your chance of living longer. Adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity each week.
  7. Prevent the spread of germs by washing your hands often, getting a flu vaccine, and avoiding close contact with someone that is sick.
  8. Learn the most common symptoms of a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately if these symptoms occur.

This weekend, let’s all give ourselves the Valentine gift of a healthy heart. Buy yourself a Valentine present or make yourself a card to display in your office or on the refrigerator that reminds you to be good to yourself!


For more heart health tips, download Heart Health Valentine’s Day Tips from the American Heart Association (AHA) here or visit the AHA website.

Healthy Holidays!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn just a couple of days, on December 21, the North Pole will be tilted its furthest distance from the Sun, and the Northern Hemisphere will experience the Winter Solstice. This will be the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it is also considered the first day of winter. In the past, people celebrated this time period with rest, reflection and thoughtful planning before daylight hours increased and a New Year began.

This time of year also coincides with many religious observances and cultural holidays. Although the traditions are many, there is a common thread among them—nearly all incorporate light for different symbolic reasons. Light helps things grow. It signifies knowledge, wisdom and innovation. It brings happiness and symbolizes warmth and goodness. It is a symbol of unity, collective work and purpose. It is sometimes even a guiding light for others.

It is a season celebrated with light, and its many symbolic meanings seem to also represent our common bond at UTMB—we work together to work wonders for our patients and their families. We embrace diversity, because it is what makes each of us unique—we all bring special gifts to this organization that collectively enable us to care for others in extraordinary ways. Through innovative thinking and the pursuit of lifelong learning, new discoveries are made each day to improve the health of people in our communities and around the globe. We demonstrate compassion and respect to everyone we meet, and we always work with integrity. Together, we will define the future of health care.

There is a special feeling this time of year, and as we celebrate the holidays and our many accomplishments, I would like to express my gratitude to each of you working on behalf of the UTMB Health System. Every individual at UTMB plays an important role in ensuring our patients and families receive the best care and service, and I hope you will take this time to reflect on the positive impact you have made for others and through the light you shine.

On behalf of the UTMB Health System, thank you for the work you do. May health and happiness greet you all throughout the holidays, and best wishes for a bright New Year!

candle version utmb

Lifelong Learning: An Ongoing Experience

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe diversity of outstanding work accomplished and innovative discoveries made at UTMB never ceases to amaze me. Our organization is composed of remarkable individuals, who excel in their career fields and personal ambitions, and each day, I read stories in the news and in messages I receive about your successes.

Whether it’s bringing groundbreaking research discoveries to the patient’s bedside, developing new devices and processes to improve the safety and quality of patient care, or simply leading others in the pursuit of knowledge, the list of achievements is remarkable. Even the ways in which the organization has demonstrated its ability to respond to changes and challenges is something special. Lifelong learning is a core value at UTMB for these very reasons—we promote excellence and innovation through lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning makes us successful, no matter what our definition of success may be. We grow as a person through learning, and when we master a subject through continuous learning, it brings great personal satisfaction. Lifelong learning enables us to be confident, competent and knowledgeable; it increases our ability to be productive and effective at what we do, and it makes us better leaders.

I recently read an article, Extreme Exposure, in TMC News last week, about two UTMB aerospace medicine residents—James Pattarini, MD, MPH and Natacha Chough, MD, MPH—who are braving the cold during a clinical rotation in Antarctica. Written by Alex Orlando, the piece was an excellent example of how lifelong learning, through new training and experiences, helps us flourish in our individual roles, benefits our colleagues and our organization, and helps pave the road ahead for the future.

The goal of the training program, which is managed by the Center for Polar Medical Operations (CPMO) at UTMB, is to train physicians to deliver specialized care to patients that live and work in aviation and space environments. CPMO was established to manage health services at the three Antarctica stations operated by the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program—McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station—as well as numerous seasonal field camps and two marine research vessels operated year round.

In the article, Pattarini describes his experience practicing medicine in the South Pole. It’s not a traditional care environment, so he must adapt by performing tasks he might not otherwise do: “An obvious, off-the-cuff thing is that for basic blood work, we’re doing it ourselves—there is no such thing as sending it to the lab and having them send it back. You’re going to draw the blood, take it into the back room, boot up the machine, load it in the cartridge, and then run it yourself and wait for the results to spit out. There’s no middleman.” In addition, nursing staff is limited—they are present, but often busy seeing their own patients.

I think it goes without saying that practicing medicine in the South Pole is an amazing opportunity, especially for our UTMB residents. They have a chance to study in a place on Earth where so few have traveled, and they will be able to directly apply their experiences to their work in the future. But it is also a valuable opportunity to experience firsthand the responsibilities of other roles on the care team and, in turn, gain a greater understanding of not only the whole process of patient care, but its nuances as well. In my experience, one of the greatest lessons I have learned, especially as I have taken on leadership roles, is to appreciate the work of everyone—each person’s contribution is needed to assure that we can provide great care to our patients.

In the article, Pattarini also explains that it’s often necessary to take innovative approaches to standard problems; flexibility is important. For example, his access to special equipment, like advance imaging devices, is limited, so he has to make do with the options he does have. He must also give very careful consideration to patient care decisions, because of the harsh climate and the impact such transitions in care may have on other members of the team, from both logistical and safety points of view. For example, it might become necessary to transfer someone to New Zealand for more acute care, he explains, “Our responsibility extends beyond the risk to the patient—it encompasses the risk to our emergency responders and aircrews in the event that an emergency evacuation is called for.”

Chough describes her experience: “All of us come from a pretty broad foundation, and when we train in this secondary specialty of aerospace medicine, we have to integrate our medical knowledge with a lot of components, such as working in extreme environments, interfacing with engineers and hardware, and the politics of space flight from funding to management—even the organization of the mission as a whole. It really challenges me to think about everything from a big picture standpoint while also having to care for the patient.”

Reading this story, I thought of a saying that is attributed to Confucius. It captures the transformation of experience into knowledge: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Although the South Pole is inarguably a unique care environment with very apparent challenges and limitations, in a contemporary health care environment, there are also unique situations in which the knowledge we have gathered must be applied in actual practice and to unanticipated situations—navigating those more challenging instances requires experience and innovative thinking!

It is through a passion for learning that we are able to thrive during times of challenge and change. Our body of knowledge in health care—and beyond—is always growing and developing, and through innovative thinking and the exploration of ideas, we not only gain new knowledge, but we are able to contribute to that greater body of knowledge.

Lifelong learning empowers us to be adaptable and flexible, to remain open to new approaches in our work and to the ideas of others, to recognize when processes aren’t working and then to develop creative solutions, and to effectively and efficiently utilize our resources. Most importantly, lifelong learning helps us set goals that are not based on where we are, but based on where we want to go.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates

Every Kindness We Do for Others

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemRecently, I received a moving story that illustrated the team spirit and value of compassion that are so prevalent at UTMB. The story was shared by Rachel Murphy, one of our nurses in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU), an area in the hospital that treats some of the most complicated patient cases.

In her message, Rachel described an evening in the SICU and the countless acts of compassion and teamwork that were demonstrated by individuals throughout John Sealy Hospital as they came to the aid of a family in need.

On this particular evening, a patient in the SICU was very ill and required numerous hands involved in her care. Her spouse remained at the bedside the entire time, but did not have any family members in the area to help watch their three children, who had been up for a full 24 hours at one point waiting on their mother’s improvement. The three children were too young to be left alone in the waiting area outside of the unit and needed a safe place to stay while at the hospital. This created a very unique situation, because normally children under the age of 14 are not allowed in the SICU due to visitation restrictions.

Seeing this family’s plight and the father’s distress, the staff of the SICU decided to turn the conference room into a makeshift waiting area where the children could stay. The conference room was near the patient’s room, so the father could check up on his children and feel reassured knowing they were close by, yet sheltered from the activity of the ICU.

Margaret Matthews, another SICU nurse, came in to help calm the children for several hours by sitting with them. Fortunately, the staff had crayons on the unit for coloring to occupy the children’s time; meanwhile, another staff member lent the family a computer tablet with Disney movies on it.

Chaplain Daryl Ervin came in during the night; he spent much of his time in prayer with the family. When the kids wanted orange soda and snacks, Vicki Romero, clinical operations administrator, donated money to get sodas from the vending machine, and Nurse Audriana Sais gave the kids the popcorn she had stashed away for her break. Dr. Casey Duncan, who was sitting outside the conference room attending to the patient, took time away from her duties as Chief Resident to help Margaret and Rachel take the kids to the restroom.

Mark Rosenfelder, from the cardiac care unit (9A), also heard about the family, and he helped find a cot and pillows that the kids could sleep on. When they realized that the conference room lights needed to be dimmed, but not turned off completely, David McDaniel, who works in the recovery room, and his nursing student devised a solution to lower the lights so the children could rest properly.

These acts of kindness are just a few examples of the teamwork that took place on the unit that night, Rachel remarked, and this was especially moving, because so many individuals made time to help out this family despite being very busy.

Special thanks to Ryan McKimmy, the patient’s primary nurse, and the following staff members, who helped pitch in and ensure this patient, her family, and all other patients on the unit were well cared for: Mark Rosenfelder (9A), Jodee Brown (MICU), Cynthia Rynearson, Stephanie Osizugbo, Gwen Franklin, Jenilyn Fowzer, Margaret Matthews, David McDaniel (PACU), Lacey Lebrun, Vicki Romero (COA, aka fearless leader), Carolyn Johnson, Ashley Bennett, and Audriana Sais.

“Everyone truly showed what UTMB is about: family,” Rachel concluded. “Without everyone’s hard work, I’m not sure that this very difficult situation for the family would have had such a silver lining of compassion and empathy. We were able to truly take care of all of the family’s needs, and help the patient’s husband focus on making vital decisions in his wife’s care. I am truly inspired and proud to work along side you all.”

To echo the sentiments of Christina Myers, nurse manager of the SICU and neurosciences critical care unit, the support multiple people showed in the care and support of this family is that for which we stand at UTMB—it’s why we come to work each day. This is why I, too, am proud to work for such a wonderful institution and with such wonderful teams.

Every kindness you do for others—no matter how small—enriches the world beyond measure, and together we can truly make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. Thank you to everyone at UTMB Health who goes above and beyond each and every day!

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe temperature has finally dropped, and the “other” season we experience in Texas has arrived—it’s no longer blazing hot! This change in weather also means that the holiday season is nearly here, and although it is a little hard to believe, the time has arrived—next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Each year, I like to begin the holidays by reflecting on the spirit of the season. Thanksgiving is one of my most beloved holidays of all. It means a break from work, an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, lots of food, and a full day’s worth of football—and of course, countless, creative ways to enjoy the leftovers.

This is the norm for many people, but it’s not always the case for others, and I hope we all keep this in mind throughout the holiday season. Many of our patients will need to spend the holiday in the hospital, and many UTMB providers and staff will unselfishly give up time with their own families and friends, or rearrange their holidays, to provide the very important care and services our patients and families need. To those of you who will be here to serve our patients and families over the holiday, thank you for your service.

Meanwhile, as many of us are busy researching recipes and preparing to enjoy Thanksgiving with friends and family, we should also keep in mind those who are less fortunate in our communities. Some are going through difficult or adverse situations; others face daily challenges simply meeting basic needs.

I know many of you remember these individuals all throughout the year. It lifts my spirit and warms my heart to hear so many stories about how members of the UTMB community go above and beyond to help our patients, families and community members each year. The level of kindness and generosity never ceases to amaze me.

Just this week, Karen Chapman, director of Rehabilitation Services, shared a story with me about Senior Physical Therapist Assistant, Keith Wright, who did something truly special for one of our trauma patients. As Karen met with the patient to discuss his discharge plans, he showed her the jacket, shoes and clothes Keith had provided to him (the patient’s clothes had been destroyed as a result of his accident). The patient was incredibly grateful for this act of kindness and generosity, and wanted to be sure this story was shared.

Hearing this made me think of something I had recently read: “Little things, be they gestures, actions or words, are the small things we do every day that naturally express our heart. They are not the result of calculations or intentions, but are rather spontaneous expressions of what we feel moved to do.” Keith exemplifies the spirit of everyone at UTMB who sees a need and quietly meets it.

Then, just two days later, I learned that our friends in Information Services had sponsored a food drive at their Thanksgiving Lunch on November 18. Through the generosity of its team members, Information Services was able to donate a total of 543 pounds of food and $798 in cash to the Galveston County Food Bank. This is a wonderful example of how giving doesn’t always have to be an expensive or grand gesture to truly make an impact. The efforts of many can often make a huge difference when combined!

That’s why each year I look forward to seeing what UTMB will give through its State Employees Charitable Campaign (SECC). It’s a small way we can all offer our help. One aspect about the campaign I appreciate is that I have an opportunity to review numerous charitable organizations that conduct very important work in our communities, and then choose which will benefit from my contribution over the next twelve months.

This year’s theme is “We Know You Have a Heart,” inspired by the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz”. Through the campaign, we hope to raise at least $500,000 and reach at least 30 percent participation across our institution. As you may know, charities rely heavily on donations from the SECC in order to fund their good work. In the past, in the Galveston area alone, the generous giving by UTMB employees has amounted to about half of all money raised for local and regional charities.

Alongside employees from across the region and state, our impact is far reaching. UTMB’s long legacy of kindness and caring provides food, shelter, health care and varied forms of support and encouragement for people in great need and causes worth supporting.

So far, we’ve reached a major milestone of raising more than $300,000. To the generous employees who have already supported SECC and the great work it makes possible, thank you—your gifts are appreciated! To those who’ve not yet supported SECC, please consider making your pledge for any amount today. It’s a wonderful way to show thanks for all our blessings, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Today, I encourage each of you to give to the SECC. To sweeten the deal, our 2014 SECC Chairman, Todd Leach, has put an exciting incentive to give on the table, called “100 MBs for 100 Percent”. For each area reaching 100 percent participation, each individual in the department will receive an additional 100 megabytes of storage for their email accounts—I know this will come in handy for my inbox!

No amount is too small. I believe it is not the amount we give, but more importantly, the fact that we have given. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift). Please visit the SECC website at to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is December 5, 2014.

Let’s see if the entire Health System can reach 100% participation!